A satirical fable of brilliantly converging tonal specificity and sharp point of view, Never Gonna Snow Again marks another contemporary film examining class, privilege, and the immigrant experience. But under the collaborative perspective of director duo Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert, this feels like a different kind of film under a too-often-reduced narrative umbrella in cinema of recent years. To examine the isolating, consumption behaviors of the well-off towards the less fortunate, Szumowska and Englert lend a haunting and occasionally quite funny gaze that makes the film less a polemic and more of a despairing chamber piece. It’s lovely, patiently vicious, and refined.
The film follows the handsome and stoic Zhenia (Alec Utgoff), a Russian immigrant living a solitary life in a sliver of Poland. He devotes himself to the citizens of one upper class suburban enclave (including Ida’s Agata Kulesza, deliciously eccentric here) as a beloved masseuse, presenting as a blank canvas for each to thrust their delusions and perceptions upon. Zhenia has an undeniably magnetic quality that brings out their secret desires; perhaps it’s his dabbling in hypnosis, or his unimposing hunky visage, or it’s an undefined magic quality that we are unclear is merely fantasy or true ability. As their patronage becomes more pronounced and Zhenia becomes more involved in the community, his internal life remains as much a mystery to us as much as what he represents comes into focus.
Zhenia’s enigmatic humanity comes foremost from the rich minimalism of Utgoff’s performance. Despite the character’s interiority, Utgoff flows with life in the smallest details. The actor lulls us much as Zhenia lulls his clients, creating intrigue in meaningful silences and his oceanic stare. It is a uniquely physical performance, revealing in his slight movements and flashes of hesitation, that conjures an increasing empathy while nevertheless bravely withholding too obvious a note that might reduce him. Not unlike Nicolas Cage’s recent work in Pig, the majesty of this performance is its restraint.
Szumowska and Englert present a world aware but removed from ongoing consequential flux, where globalization is a niche concern too far away from the rich suburbanites noses to merit real concern. As they evoke a sensory bliss throughout, giving a film as attuned to the body as it is to the soul, its social concerns burrow deep for a more subconsciously understood satire than one interested in bluntly stated answers. What is insular about the wealthy community reveals less about their exclusion of others than it does about their incredibly narrow vision of the world; the way they consume (with Zhenia’s mind, body, and soul essentially treated as a resource) says less about their mindless extravagance than it does their solipsism. This is a director duo looking for more subtle, introspective study of class divides than we are accustomed to, but it deserves discussion alongside some of the contemporary best.
With Englert also on cinematography duties, Never Gonna Snow Again is a disarming film that references or chases the likes of Being There and Stalker, with its own fresh handling of what it means to be alive in isolating environments. With a storybook quality about grave societal ills, the film leaves a mystifying effect that lingers, as if it excavates something fundamental we hadn’t considered in a way we don’t expect.